Editor: One year ago, before COVID-19 dominated the landscape of our entire lives, some may recall that the media was quite engrossed with the civil unrest in Hong Kong. An intense, but peaceful, protest was taking place in those streets and it was met with an authoritarian government who would tolerate no deviation. Here in the West, those protesters were often viewed as heroes standing up for democracy against tyrannical forces on the other side of the world.
Fast forward to recently in Tecumseh Park in Chatham. A group of protesters gathered peacefully to make a display of their position on particular issues concerning our government, and at least one among their organizers has been summoned before a court with the threat of life-destroying fines and/or imprisonment.
The issues surrounding COVID, which have borne so heavily upon all our lives, have caused tremendous divisions in our towns and in our culture. There are many people who feel very strongly on many of these issues, each feeling very justified in their perspective.
Such division is unfortunate, however, it is a fundamental right in this country that we permit freedom of belief and opinion. This does not mean that we must agree with that person, but in respect for their opinions we do not tolerate persecution of those we disagree with.
For myself, having learned of this demonstration in Tecumseh Park after the fact and after the charges were laid, I set myself to listen to a recording of the speeches given at the protest. After taking in the details, I can comfortably say that I disagree strongly with much of the content and tone of what was being spoken and simply find many of their statements, claims, and beliefs baffling and ridiculous.
However, this difference of opinion is exactly what is protected by our freedom of belief.
Moreover, enshrined in our Charter of Right and Freedoms as a fundamental right, alongside our freedom of belief and opinion, is our right of assembly; a right which includes the freedom to gather in peace and demonstrate our opinions on how government is exercised.
It must be remembered that the charges laid were not in regard to gathering at all, but rather the size of the gathering. This absurd distinction can only be reduced to an understanding that: it is OK if very few people disagree with the government, but it will not be tolerated if many people disagree with the government.
Regardless of if we agree or disagree with the beliefs and opinions of those present at that demonstration held in Tecumseh Park, to tolerate this breach upon our right to assembly is no different than to allow the authoritarian restrictions which worked to silence those protesters in Hong Kong.
By shamefully laying or approving these charges, some of our elected officials, municipal administrators, and police have made the Tecumseh Park protesters very unlikely democratic heroes, fighting a form of tyranny which perhaps does not use tear gas and water cannons, but is polite, and may simply destroy your life with a neatly written court summons.